It all smacks of a publicity stunt, however. Google, which holds cash reserves of $43bn, should be able to stump up a much larger pot of money. Helping just four companies with £0.5m –that doesn’t exactly reach the dizzy, economy-saving, innovation-kickstarting heights that Google could quite easily have aimed for.
And don't forget all the cash it has already saved in the UK by funneling its profits into tax havens...
So, wary of its sliding rep in the UK, Google has brought a couple of entrepreneurial heavyweights on board to help smooth over the cracks. First Branson, grinning like a maniac (and no doubt hoping that his alliance with Google will benefit one of his myriad digital companies – preferably one that he holds more than a nominal stake in). Although his official line reads: ‘Google's Impact Challenge is a brilliant way to spark a new wave of innovation amongst non-profit foundations and charities and raise the profile of many great ideas in the non-profit sector’.
And then there’s Tim Berners-Lee, the ‘father of the Internet’, who seems to have more altruistic aims: ‘The web's contribution to economic progress has been much celebrated, but I believe that we are only scratching the surface of its potential to solve social and political problems,’ he says.
Both are judges on the competition panel. Applications open today at Globalimpactchallenge.withgoogle.com and 10 finalists will be announced mid-May. The winners will be revealed at a final event in June, where the lucky firms can meet the whole judging panel including Berners-Lee, Branson and of course the token corporate Google guy: vice-president for northern and central Europe, Matt Brittin.
Chances of winning one of the coveted four places are pretty slim, with thousands of entries predicted. That said, the odds of winning the lottery are one in 14 million, so if you’re a budding social business, data-driven (yes, Google wants something in return – your clever data, please), it’s probably worth a punt – and it won’t cost you a penny to enter, either.